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The Green Heart of the

Snowdrop Kate McIlhagga

Some sample pages



Contents (of complete version) Introduction 9 Poem – Prayer Prayer – Poem 13

From the corners of the world 15 Let us knock at God’s gate with our prayers 16 At Alnmouth Friary 17 New life 17 Time 18 Welcome 19 Gathering 20 Living stones 21

Teach us to number our days (Ps. 90) 22 Open our lips 23 Approach 23 Invocation 24 Come to us 24 Calling 25 God of light and warmth 26 Invitation 26

My soul waits 29 Reflection 30 ‘Nourishing our own inner monasteries’ 31 Open 33 I am Mary and I am Martha 34 The Word awaited 35 My soul waits 36 Marie Curie 36 Dark and bright 37 The fir tree 38 Shepherd King 39 Prepare the way 40 Confession 40

Father forgive 41 Too easy 42 Promises 43 The grey cloud 43 Desperate companion 44 Heart search 44 Help us to admit our emptiness 46 Shepherd and sheep 47 Sheep among wolves 47 The flooding tide 49 Seeking harbour 50 To know you in all things 51

The greening of trees 53 Creator of all 54 Rhythm of life 54 Loved into being 55 Moonlight 55 Starlight 56 Thanksgiving hymn 57 Adoration 58 Sand and rock 59 Laudate 60 Imperfect 61 Confession 62 Breaking sea 63

Prayer for peace 65 Open and generous 66 Supplication 66 Reconciliation as God’s gift 67 Mist cleared 68 Ploughed ground 69 St Swithin’s Day 70 The turning tide 70 Touch of love 71 May time 72 Circuit 73 Holy and hurt 64


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Open the stable door 75 Advent hope 76 Pregnant with hope 76 Clear the way 77 Itching ears 78 Different drummer 79 Make us aware 80 Christmas tide 80 Birth song 82 Come Christmas God 83 Moontime of the winter 84 Northumbrian nativity 85 Christmas Eve 86

Birth 87 Open the stable door 88 Cords of love 89 Draw us onwards 89 Son bright 90 Snowmoon 90 Time turns 91 Unfreeze 92 Winter solstice 92 Epiphany 94 Far and wide 95 Into Egypt 95

Not for the faint-hearted 97 Lent is not for the faint-hearted 98 Promise of Spring 99 A green heart 100 Kingdom light 101 Knock and open 102 Show me the path that leads to life 103 You are there 103 Lent darkness 104 Mothering 106 Thanksgiving 107 Commitment 108 Kindred 109 Penitence 110

Wrapped in God’s love 111 Steadfast love 112 Choices 113 Flower fragrance 114 Palm – Passion 114 Cross-carrying Jesus 115 The garden 116 God’s Friday 117 ‘On a pastoral forehead of Wales’ 118 Cup of suffering 118 Sun garden 120 The cemetery 121 Interlocking circles 122

Dawn’s ribbon of glory 123 Into living hope 124 Easter blessing 124 Easter joy 125 Skylark and hawk 126 Touch 127 All shall cry glory 128 Iona Easter 128 Adoration 129 Lord of the morning 130 Confession 131 Supplication 132 Blossom into life 133 Thomas 133

Thanksgiving 134 Commitment 135 Signs of life 136 Transfiguration 137 Ascension sideways 138 Pentecost 139 Invocation 140 Come 141 Forgive 141 Basketful 142 Intercession 143 The shadow of the dove 144

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Together on pilgrimage 147 Rainbow God 148 Confession for Aidantide 149 Lighten our darkness 150 Pilgrimage 151 Lindisfarne 151 Following Jesus 152 Commitment 152 Between three and six in the morning ‌ 153

Blessing the boats 154 Hallowing 156 A pilgrimage prayer from Holy Island 158 Pilgrimage prayer from Holy Island 158 Thanksgiving 159 Asylum seekers 160 Wisdom is calling 161 Eucharist 162 Address to a pilgrim 163

The gentling of friends 165 God in a box 166 Presence 167 Forgive us 168 Our failure 169 Hope 170 Creator of hope 170 Choose to hope 171 Hope within 172 Dandelion clock 173 Thanksgiving 174 Christ light 174 Storm and tide 175 Children and young people 176 Intercession 177

Tools for self-reliance 178 Alnwick Market Square 179 Christ our Advocate 180 Prayer rosary 180 Household of faith 181 Witnesses 182 International community 183 Potter 184 Lawgiver 185 A new dawn 186 Bread of adversity 187 Bread and cup 188 A fragment of bread 189

In the ebb and flow 190 Wrestle for a blessing 192 Spring blessing 193 The blessing of autumn 193 Day and night 193 Faith 194 Journey blessings 195 Birth blessing 196 Toy blessing 197 Meal blessing 197 Blessing for a work day 197 On a child leaving home 198 Post-Communion 199 Encompassing presence 200 Special pleading 201 Maranatha 201

On retirement 202 The time that’s left 202 Stay 202 Trust 203 Endings 204 Laying down and letting go 205 Facing serious illness 207 For mourners 209 The future 210 Death 211 Into the light 211 Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses 212 Blessings 213 Trinity 214


Copyright Š Donald McIlhagga, 2004 First published 2004 by Wild Goose Publications Fourth Floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3DH, UK web: Wild Goose Publications is the publishing division of the Iona Community. Scottish Charity No. SCO03794. Limited Company Reg. No. SCO96243. ISBN 1 901557 85 5 Cover design and snowdrop photos Š Wild Goose Publications All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including photocopying or any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Kate McIlhagga has asserted her right in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Overseas distribution Australia: Willow Connection Pty Ltd, Unit 4A, 3-9 Kenneth Road, Manly Vale, NSW 2093 New Zealand: Pleroma, Higginson Street, Otane 4170, Central Hawkes Bay Canada: Bayard Distribution, 49 Front Street E. #200, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1B3 Permission to reproduce any part of this work in Australia or New Zealand should be sought from Willow Connection. Printed by Cromwell Press, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK.



Introduction I am writing this as the first snowdrops push their heads through the Northumberland snow. Soon they will reveal the green heart on the underside of their petals which so captured Kate’s imagination. Like so much in nature, it symbolised for her some aspect of God’s purpose for our lives, and finds an echo in this collection. Kate was a wordsmith whose imagery and economy of language spoke to many people. Her ability to say a great deal in a few words gives the items in this book a distinctive style which takes our thought and imagination beyond ourselves to what she called ‘an eternal source’. Some pieces are clearly prayers. Some are poems. Some, maybe all, are both. Most of the titles of the individual items are Kate’s. I have grouped them into nine sections to which I have given theme titles drawn from the prayer-poems themselves. The sections inevitably overflow into each other and sometimes the decision about where to put a particular piece was not easy. Much of the inspiration of From the corners of the world comes from Kate’s gift of gathering people into friendship, something that has been nourished for us both over the last forty years in the life of the Iona Community. Kate was a welcoming person whose smiling eyes are recalled whenever people talk about her. This quality reflected her ability to lead people to an awareness of their potential healing and wholeness. She was in constant demand as a retreat leader and as a spiritual director, and appropriately for a number of years co-convened the Iona Community’s working group on spirituality. This all contributes to the second section, My soul waits. I can remember her returning from an Ignation retreat where she had been intrigued by the idea of ‘nourishing our own inner monasteries’, while her regular participation in the Julian movement with its experience of shared silence taught her a lot about ‘waiting’. Some of her thinking here reflects, of course, her own trials of a twenty-year battle with breast cancer over the whole period of her ordained ministry. Much of My soul waits and most of The greening of trees owe much to Kate’s passion for the integrity of creation. Most of her writing was done in the last ten years of her life and inspired by living in the ‘secret kingdom’ of Northumberland. She loved the Cheviot Hills as she loved walking on St Cuthbert’s sands overlooking Holy Island, and she would visit Lindisfarne as often as she could. The clarity of light and its source in the heavens, the tides and their effects on the shoreline, the trees in


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their different seasons spoke to her of God’s gracious action in surprising ways. In her earlier years, city life in Glasgow, in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in Leeds and Sheffield, had perhaps a sharper cutting edge. That experience also finds reflection in the theme of creation’s integrity. Not just the turning seasons, but the parallel cycle of the Church’s year spoke to her of the centrality of faith and hope and love. Open the stable door takes us from Advent through Christmas and New Year to Epiphany. Not for the faint-hearted continues our journey through the demanding time of Lenten wilderness, though including its halfway point when we celebrate and meditate on Mothering. Kate was a feminist in the best sense. A Mothering God and a Compassionate Spirit took her expression of the faith beyond issues of gender. In her own family life she was a very proud mother and grandmother, and I trust she rejoices that I have dedicated this book to our three sons, their wives and four grandsons. Dawn’s ribbon of glory celebrates a resurrection life now. As a Christian Aid adviser Kate prayed and worked for ‘life before death’ for the least privileged of our world. This ‘justice and peace’ theme, with its practical outworking in fair trade, flows into the next two sections. Together on pilgrimage owes much to our Celtic heritage, which, when she discovered Carmichael’s Carmina Gaedelica, became one of the strongest influences on Kate’s life and work – as she would often put it, ‘prayer and politics are indivisible’. She was very conscious of the Company of Saints through the centuries, surrounding us as we pilgrimage in their steps – men and women, ancient and modern: Columba and Anna of Iona, Cuthbert and Hilda of Northumbria; but no less Elizabeth Fry and Luther King, Josephine Butler and Romero from nearer our day. The gentling of friends helps us to pray for others, often with a recurring theme of Kate’s writing, ‘hope’. Her embrace is as world-wide as it is inclusive of ‘all conditions of humanity’. She was an ecumenist in the true sense of that word. The final section, In the ebb and flow, is first an affirmation of ‘every blessed thing’. One of her favourite sayings, which would often come through in her preaching – or as one friend put it when she retired, through ‘the good stories that she told’ – was that ‘darkness and light are both alike to God’. Blessings are there in both. Endings too were a constant concern of hers, not least because she trained people who were involved in bereavement care. She started what is still a continuing care movement during our ministry in Huntingdonshire and latterly carried on this work with the day hospice in North Northumberland. Two of the last prayer-poems (‘Death’ and ‘Surrounded by a Cloud of Witnesses’) were used at her own ‘Funeral Celebration’ in April 2002 in the parish church of Norham, the village to which we had retired.

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Kate had her favourite authors, and there are sometimes allusions in her prayerpoems to Eliot, to Hopkins, to Berrigan or Bonhoeffer, and she died with Eliot’s echo of Mother Julian on her lips, ‘All shall be well’. Her quotation from Bonhoeffer, ‘Death is the last great festival on the road to freedom’, demands that the final piece in this collection should be one about our destination, the one Kate entitled ‘Trinity’, ending as it does, ‘The circle is complete … God ever-living God ever-loving God ever-present in perfect community.’ Donald McIlhagga, Candlemas 2004.

Kate’s prayer-poetry was first published by the United Reformed Church in its Prayer Handbook for 1993, Encompassing Presence. Since then her work has appeared in some thirty anthologies and in a number of liturgies published for special occasions. Requests for the use of the items in this book should be addressed to Wild Goose Publications.


From the corners of the world


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Let us knock at God’s gate with our prayers (St Cuthbert) As surely as seasons unfold and Spring follows Winter so surely is your steadfast love O God. As burns released from Winter’s bondage leap joyously to the sea, melt our frozen hearts that we may worship you. O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for God it is who made us, not we ourselves. Womb dark and lifeless, you knitted us with love. Growing and grappling, you grasped us with love. Wandering and doubtful, you held us with love. Suffering and sickened, you healed us with love. Searching uncertainly, you found us with love. And in the following, you lead us with love, today, tomorrow and always.

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Time God of the past who has fathered and mothered us we are here to worship you. God of the future who is always ahead of us we are here to trust you. God of the present, here in the midst of us we are here to praise you. Let us worship God, the God who forms the rhythm of our lives, the God who is present at the beginning and ending of each day ‌ each time ‌ each purpose. God of the longest day may our lives be a long day for you, always reflecting your light, open and awake. God of all time, God beyond and behind time, may we know what is too late and what is too soon. May we always recognise the right time in the light of your timeless love.



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Welcome When we are happy, when we are full of fun and laughter God welcomes us. When we are angry, when people let us down and make us sad God welcomes us. When we are tired, when we need to stop and curl up and rest God welcomes us. God of welcome, God whose door is always open we are glad to meet you here. Gather us, O God, that we may come expectant to worship, bringing with us the pain and joy of time that is past. Grant that what we do in your name may be done to your glory, that justice and peace may embrace, love and faith unite.

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Living stones Come as living stones, the thumb-print of the mason on each heart. Come as living stones, the imprint of the maker on each soul. Come as living stones, the honing of life’s suffering on each mind. Come to be made into a house, a community of God’s purpose, a place of habitation and welcome, a place to come to and a place to go from.



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Teach us to number our days (Ps. 90) Bless to me, O God, this day, fresh made. Bless me in the lowing of cattle and the rumble of traffic. Bless me at desk or helm and in the confines of my room. Bless me in the comfort and constriction of my bed and in the prayer I offer. Bless the unknown ones for whom I pray: the victims of terrorism and the perpetrators of it; those swept to extinction by fire or flood – thousands and yet each one known and precious to you. Bless me in my journey, Christ through this day and through this life till this day ends and a new day dawns.

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Invitation The fire is lit, the table set, the door stands open. Come to eat and drink, come to be part of the community, come to be part of a worldwide communion of those who trust in Jesus. Come round the table saint and sinner, stranger and friend, to break bread to share wine, prepared and poured for you. In sharing the symbols of life blood spilt and body broken, become one with Christ and with all those, who, hurting, yearn for healing today. Come, here is food for your healing, bread and wine for your journey. Come to be full-filled, by God, the Giver and Lover of all.


My soul waits


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Reflection Make time to sit in comfort, to breathe deeply, to relax in the presence of God, like a cat asleep on a chair or a rabbit sunnily on a path: The Loving One, who made you, who yearned over you in the womb, who cherished you as a baby, who tended you as a child, who gave you glimpses of glory from your pram; the One who moulded you, the One whose loving arm is always under your head, says: ‘Have no fear for I have redeemed you. I call you by name and you are mine.’ I

AM LOVED BY GOD. Keep silence in that thought.

Lord, teach us the silence of humility, the silence of wisdom, the silence of love, silence that speaks without words, the silence of faith. Lord, teach us to silence our own hearts and minds, that we may listen for the movement of your Holy Spirit, and feel your presence.

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Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the depths of my being. Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories. Take me down to the spring of my life and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making. Out of the deeps I cry to you, O God.

‘Nourishing our own inner monasteries’ Let silence be placed around us like a mantle. Let us enter into it, as through a small secret door; stooping, to emerge into an acre of peace, where stillness reigns and God is ever present. (Silence) Then comes the voice of God, in the startled cry of a refugee child, waking in unfamiliar surroundings.



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Then comes the voice of God, in the mother, fleeing with her treasure in her arms, and saying ‘I am here.’ Then comes the voice of God, in the father who points to the stars and says: ‘There is our signpost. There is our lantern. Be of good courage.’ (Silence) O Lord, may the mantle of silence become a cloak of understanding to warm our hearts in prayer.

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Open I stand. I open myself to God. I kneel. I listen. I step into God’s presence. I float in the encompassing ocean of God’s love. I breathe in and out: breathing in the mercy of God, breathing out the pain of my sadness. I am still, at rest with God, who is deep within me and all around me. Out of that deep centre I weave a prayer of God’s presence, affirming that God is: that God is with the poor, that God is with the outcast, that God is with me. I call upon God’s Spirit. She rests like a butterfly shimmering on a branch. She confronts the hurt, which lies twisted at the heart of society. She leads me out from active prayer into prayerful action. Creating, Sustaining and All-loving God, give us the strength and courage to be still, that we might better serve your broken world.


The greening of trees


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Loved into being Loved into being, hill, fen and field; loved into being, ocean flood and fish; loved into being, each plant and each tree; loved into being, you and me.

Moonlight Lovely new moon holy be each thing her eye lights on, kindly be each deed she reveals. Moonlight, lamplight of God, compass us about with the shield of your love.

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Starlight Bright shining star, blessed be each thing your eye lights on. Radiant summer sun, blessed be each thing your smile touches. As night and day you warm and bless us, so one day shall the Lord, your creator be our everlasting Light. Son of God, work in me and through me that I may shine like the stars. Shine through me that I may reflect your glorious light, and sharing a sense of wonder may point the way to God. Spirit of God, coax me from my hiding place. Draw me out to witness to God’s love. Restore my zest for life that all that I do may be to your glory.



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Holy and hurt The earth is full of the grandeur of God. Praise God, thrush and falcon! Praise him lark and robin! Praise God, bees and sun-drunk cats! Praise him orchids and mirk-filled bats! Praise God all nations! Let all the people praise God’s splendour! Beneath the feather, the claw, around the rose, the thorn, beside the pool, pollution, above the blue mountain, the cloud: nature too wounds and is wounded. Holy is the soil we walk on, holy the place we despoil. God of grandeur and grace, where we have laid waste your creation, FORGIVE US. Where we have hurt and wounded each other, FORGIVE US. Where your laws and commandments lie broken, FORGIVE US. Forgive us and restore us to your kingdom, that renouncing what separates us from you, we may respond childlike to your love, meeting the demands of faith on our knees, not counting the cost or the pain of discipleship, as we praise your holy name.

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Prayer for peace O God, we sense your presence in the circle of a golden bay, in the curve of a distant hill. We see you in the faces that smile lovingly into ours. We feel you in the salt tang of the sea and in the countless grains of sand, for you are all around us, you are deep within us. We exult in your presence and praise your holy name. But a shadow lies across the hill, a deep stain seeps into the golden sand, faces are transfixed by a horrendous light, shadows burned on buildings, and the land laid waste for years to come. Your people are helpless, homeless and heartsick; your children cry at empty breasts, and still the world pours more money into making arms than holding hands; still our greed pollutes the earth, still the consequences of our sin reach out across the generations. O Trinity of love, forgive us, that we may forgive one another. Heal us that we may be people of healing, and renew us that we may be makers of peace. Through Christ, the Prince of Peace, we pray.


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The Green Heart of the Snowdrop  

The best of Kate McIlhagga's work in one collection. Includes poems and prayers of gathering and beginning; creation and self; Advent and Ep...